Proof It!

There's no doubt that Spain's El País is one of the top newspapers in Europe, and we recently started reading it online. We also read Mexican newspapers online, but it's interesting to get the Spanish perspective (even though their Spanish is, well, funny!) on the news.

This week, El País reported on the widely discussed closure of the historic airport Tempelhof in Berlin, which resisted the Berlin Blockade by the Soviets. Tempelhof airport is the site of the Berlin Airlift, where Western Allies dropped 2.3 million tons of food in 1948 and 1949 during what was the largest humanitarian effort in the world. Thanks to a massive logistical and military operation, the Western Allies were able to feed the people of Berlin during the year of the blockade, which was lifted in May 1949.

The airport is spelled Tempelhof. In a photo caption, El País spells it Templehof. It goes to show that we are all human -- even editors at world-class newspapers. However, this German proper name word should probably be the first one to be correct. After all, it's the subject of the article, so it's analogous to spelling a famous person's name incorrectly.

The photo caption reads: Uno de los llamados 'candybombers' , un Douglas DC-3 estadounidense, despega del aeropuerto berlinés de Templehof- REUTERS. Unfortunately, the caption is of a picture that actually features the correct spelling of the airport -- its large sign, which reads Berlin - Tempelhof.

Read the entire Spanish-language article here.

Fishy: Strangest Translation Inquiry of the Year

Many of our fellow language professionals receive strange inquiries once in a while, ranging from someone willing to pay $30 for the translation of a 10-page aeronautical engineering document to someone's widow somewhere in Africa who needs documents translated into German (and no, it's not the Nigerian scam). Many times, our colleagues share these inquiries with us and give us a heads up on fishy inquiries. It's been relatively quiet on our bizarre inquiries front. However, this week, we received one that we want to share with our fellow translators. We are pretty sure no one would fall for this, but you never know. If you have also received this inquiry, we'd love to know.

We received an e-mail titled "Progress". Apparently, the sender has finished a book and needs help "writing, translating, and editing". The language pair is not specified. The sender goes on to state:

"I will be glad to send you the book by mail and its only 1170 pages."

Only 1170 pages? That's nothing. We can knock that out in an afternoon! Hard copy? No problem. We can scan 1170 pages.

"Let me know your charges for that.I graduated at the university of boston with a degree in writing and linguistics."

We doubt it.

"Also i will send you a deposit payment and then the balance later when the job is finished.

Let me have your address in making the payment so that we can begin work."

I don't think so!

"If you would like to travel, i will take full responsibility of your travel expenses so that you can get to meet some other people working for me towards the production of this book.You will be living comfortably in my home for 2 months and we all shall be working in my library."

Thank you very much, we don't want to live comfortably in your house. We have our own houses.

"Sorry , i don't make calls because i'm a stammerer so we can always communicate via email if thats not a problem but you can leave me a message."

Hm, maybe a little fishy?

We replied saying that we just don't have the bandwidth to take on a project of this magnitude at the moment. For *some* reason, we just don't feel comfortable sending our address to strangers and going to live in strangers' houses to work on a book with all travel expenses paid...

Interpreting Politics

Many times, there's an unsuspected intersection between politics and our profession. Although neither one of us in an American citizen, as our country of birth, Austria, does not allow double citizenship, but we are strong supporters of the party that does not feature an elephant.

As we have violated our self-imposed non-political-spending rule, we received an e-mail from the Obama folks that the candidate would be in Las Vegas this weekend. We headed to Bonanza High School and joined two friends and a crowd of 20,000 or so. You have to love Vegas weather -- it was a perfect fall day, with temperature in the 80s, which makes this a summer day elsewhere in the nation.

During Obama's powerful speech (during which, for some reason, he was not sweating like the rest of us), a sign language interpreter was moving her hands faster than a blackjack dealer at Bellagio (how's that for a Vegas reference?). It was quite impressive, and she even interpreted the few songs that preceded Obama's speech (who was, by the way, early). Talk about high-pressure simulatenous interpreting with all cameras on you, as she was standing right behind the presidential candidate, wearing a black business suit, the poor thing. It reminded me that there are so many different sides to our profession that we sometimes don't even think about. As blogged about in a previous post, high-quality language services are in demand!

Holocaust Translations

A few days ago, I discovered an article with my name that got indexed on my ZoomInfo professional networking site. The Internet is a wonderful thing, and I have run across many old press releases, newspaper articles, online comments, etc. that mention our past or current work. This one, however, is one I had not thought about it in quite some time, because it precedes my work as a professional translator and because it is about the bleakest subject one can possibly imagine: the Holocaust.

During my graduate days as an M.B.A. student at UNLV, I helped my friend and UNLV professor John Zimmerman with a project that is very dear to both our hearts: the rebuttal of completely unfounded conspiracy theories from an irrational group of Holocaust deniers, which he contributed to the Holocaust History Project. In spite of the unimaginable descriptions and lack of appreciation for human life that was painfully evident in the grim documents, I agreed to help John with the German into English translation and interpretation of texts written mostly in Amtsdeutsch (a needlessly formal language that is used in German government communications). John needed to know the content of these documents in order to substantiate his arguments and make his case, which is obvious to all normal people on this planet: the Holocaust did happen. Mainly, this involved digging through hundreds of pages of Nazi documentation, much of it in nearly indecipherable old German handwriting. As a native German speaker (there aren't many of us here in Vegas), I was a natural choice, but as an Austrian who is truly horrified of her country's involvement in one of the biggest atrocities in the history of humanity, I was a poor choice.

I am delighted to discover that John Zimmerman's work is an important part of the Holocaust History project, and while the words and translations still haunt me, I am proud to have played a tiny role in the fight against Holocaust deniers. You can read the study, which acknowledges the translator, here. In addition, John's work was published in book form, and he kindly acknowledges my contribution in the book's introduction. You can buy Holocaust Denial: Demographics, Testimonies and Ideologies here.

Joyce Carol Oates and Literary Translation in Vegas

One of America's preeminent writers and thinkers, prolific novelist Joyce Carol Oates, gave a reading at my alma mater, the University of Nevada Las Vegas on Saturday, hosted by UNLV's Black Mountain Institute. I was elated, as Vegas has infrequent visits by authors of her caliber.

Joyce Carol Oates is as thin and elegant as she appears on the back covers of her books, but there is nothing weak or frail in her voice, her wit, and her eloquence. Since she has been successfully publishing since the 60s, I was certain she must be past the age of 60, but had no idea she was actually 70 years young. She appears as fresh and sharp as a UNLV freshman (fresher, actually). She opened her reading by remarking she'd been in Vegas only 24 hours and had already lost 24 million dollars. Carol Harter, Executive Director of the Black Mountain Institute, introduced Oates, whom she'd known since the early 70s. The novelist read a part of a short story from her recent collection "Wild Nights!" in which she fictionalizes the last days of the lives of many notable authors and poets, including Hemingway, Dickinson, Twain, and Poe. In "EDickinsonRepliLux," a life-like mannequin of Emily Dickinson is purchased by a well-to-do suburban couple. It moves like Emily Dickinson, it talks like Emily Dickinson, but has no internal organs. Is what she writes real Emily Dickinson? The diminutive poet brings all sorts of problems into the house, and the husband finally says it: he hates poetry and he hates riddles.

Here in Las Vegas, I frequent places where one can run into supposed superstars from pop culture -- you name them, and they have been here. I couldn't care less about running into Pamela Anderson at Tryst or Britney Spears at Simon, but give me a famous author (Wole Soyinka, Tobias Wolff) and I am starstruck. I did muster up enough courage to have my two copies of Oates' most recent novel "My Sister, My Love" autographed. As always: one for me and one for Dagy. Oates was very gracious, and unlike many highly acclaimed authors (most recently, Paul Auster in Vienna) she even offered to inscribe the books while a journalist (you know who you are) was interviewing her during the autograph session.

On my way out I spoke to Doug Unger, interim chair of UNLV's English department, finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1986 (although I am biased, I must say that I prefer Unger's work to Updike's), my undergraduate literature professor, Director of the Creative Writing Program at UNLV and my overall local literary hero. Doug and I briefly chatted about Black Mountain Institute's Rainmaker Translations, which seeks to translate works from underrepresented languages into English and bring translations of top international fiction to the United States. While none of our languages are exotic (German, Spanish, French), we would certainly be honored to participate in literary translations in academia and are thrilled that the Black Mountain Institute is involved in such a fantastic endeavor. However, in spite of our immense love of literature, we have thus far stayed away from poorly paid literary translations, but that can certainly be changed. As we mentioned in a previous post, our hats are off to our literary translation colleagues, especially to German translator Wibke Kuhn, who made Swedish author Stieg Larsson accessible to us.

MSNBC News Story: Lost in Translation/Interpretation

"In the beginning of the timing of the laws, I said there is no difficulties base." Huh? Rachel Maddow doesn't understand it either, and she's a Rhodes Scholar. Last night, I was watching her news program on MSNBC. I really like her show, and while her political stance (which I share) is hard to miss, she presents very interesting news. Last night, our profession was the topic of one news item. Check it out here -- it is priceless.

Apparently, the American government has not done a very good job at providing correct English<->Arabic interpretation for defendants in Guantánamo Bay. Rachel Maddow referred to "bad translations". While I certainly appreciate our profession and its importance being discussed and appreciated in the national news, it was clear to me that Ms. Maddow was talking about interpreters in court, not translators. Maybe the American Translators Association should send out a memo to all news stations: Translation = written word. Interpretation = spoken word. It's not that hard.

Basically, five key defendants charged in conjunction with 9/11 were moving towards jury trials, and their lawyers said that translations were done so on the cheap that they estimate that half of what defendants stated in the hearing room was mistranslated. That certainly doesn't make for a fair trial, does it? No wonder the State Department has been aggressively recruiting Arabic translators/interpreters.

Ms. Maddow mentioned another hilarious interpretation mishap. Somehow, "Osama bin Laden's driver" got interpreted as "Osama bin Laden's lawyer". With a smirk, she shrugged and said "Oh, what's the difference?" and cut to commercial break. So, thanks MSNBC for highlighting the importance (in this case, it really might be about life or death) of our profession. Next time, please do check the terminology, though.

Where Have All the Translators Gone?

Well, for the American translators and interpreters during election week in the U.S., that would be, drumroll, please: The 49th Annual ATA (American Translators Association) Conference in Orlando, Florida. From November 4 (yes, we know, election day) until November 8, several thousand language professionals will descend upon the Hilton in the Walt Disney World Resort (really!) to partake in what is arguably the biggest exchange of translation information in the country.

Clients, consider yourselves warned: get your projects in before the end of October, as most of my fellow translators and I will be entering into heated language discussions, dissecting pronouns, false friends, and learning from each other, among other language-oriented activities in Orlando.

I will be attending several very interesting pre-conference seminars on November 4, and have decided, as I have done in previous years, to fully focus my energy on the conference (translation: taking no work with me). I will, after all, need a lot of energy, as I average four sessions a day, plus networking events, happy hours, division meetings, roaming around the exhibitor hall to score the latest and greatest dictionaries, etc. My Blackberry is not invited.

The ATA Conference will be my fifth in a row, and I can't sing its praises enough: the hundreds of sessions run the gamut from accounting principles for translators (taught by expert German translator Ted Wozniak) to dilemmas in translating Cormac McCarthy's work to Web 2.0 for translators, translation environment tools, etc. etc. Some of the sessions I am looking forward to the most this year are: Negotiating Skills and Tips and Techniques for Getting Media Coverage in Your Area. I have already planned out my schedule for the entire week, and needless to say, I have several sessions I would like to go to for each time slot. Next time I am bringing my twin, Dagy. I will have to look into discounted fees for twins.

As if all this is not enough, the entire conference is a bargain at around $300 for the three-day main conference for ATA members. I have been to marketing conferences that run $700 per day, so this really is a sweet deal. Of course, the icing on the cake is always the incredible time I have with my favorite translator friends. I also look forward to finally meeting some colleagues I have only met in the virtual world of ATA listservs and fellow translation bloggers.

For more information and to register for the conference, check out the ATA site.

Translating Nevada

It’s official! As of this week, I am a proud board member of the recently formed Nevada Interpreters and Translators Association (NITA). A few months ago, I was considering starting such an association, but luckily I heard through my colleague Karen Tkaczyx, a fellow translator who lives in northern Nevada, that NITA had been started earlier this year.

NITA is headquartered in Reno, and I am thrilled to be representing the organization in my neck of the woods (Las Vegas). As opposed to many other western states (mainly, California), Nevada has not had a strong statewide professional translation and interpretation association, and NITA is bound to change that! My fellow board members, including president Tracy Young, Rossana Bertrani-Roach, Álvaro Degives-Más, MariCarmen Cresci, Yovanna Estep and Karen Tkaczyx are committed to advancing and elevating the quality and availability of language services in the state of Nevada. NITA offers its members professional development opportunities, unique NITA e-mail addresses, access to the NITA ListServ, and much more. Our organization has experienced significant growth since its inception earlier this year, and if you are a language professional in the Silver State, we would love for you to join us. If you would like to get involved and help us grow, please drop me a line.

Here’s to our successful professional association in the Wild Wild West!

Paul Auster: Goose Bumps in Vienna

We are voracious readers of fiction in four languages, amateur self-appointed literature critics, and literature bloggers. We generally do not translate fiction, as translating serious literature is an enormous and complex task that is unfortunately mostly not very well paid. Our hats are off to our extremely talented literary translation colleagues. Thank you, translator Wibke Kuhn, for making Stieg Larsson’s fantastic Swedish-language books accessible to us in German (now available in English on Amazon).

We really like Paul Auster, the American novelist, and were thrilled to hear that he would be in Vienna to give a much-anticipated (and very well attended) reading from his new book “Man in the Dark.” The event’s organizer, a prominent figure in the Austrian literary scene, asked us to translate his German introduction speech for Mr. Auster into English. Here’s an excerpt from the text:

Via Paul Auster’s books I thus entered an eerie but incredibly attractive world of gamblers and compulsive gamblers, which closely resembles film noir, in which oftentimes chance also plays God and lets people stumble into inhumane destinies so they will finally understand that there is no God – unless they could recognize Dashiell Hammett as their creator, which of course comes with a kafkaesque Moebius strip.

This line is made for Vegas:
But not even the fractional disorder systems which were subject of such high praise during the heyday of the chaos theory helped my Auster heroes win in the gambling joints of their existence, because regardless of how cool of a player you are: strategy without luck is no good.

The reading was yesterday, October 1, at the venerable Ronacher theater in Vienna. Dagy was, of course, there (Judy wasn’t, due to a long commute from Vegas), and, for the very first time, heard one of our texts read by a professionally trained speaker (a native English speaker, thankfully) in front of 1,000 people. It gave her goose bumps, and we were pretty proud of our little project. After all, we don’t get to hear our translations read out aloud on a stage very often. Paul Auster might not know us, but we now know a bit more about Paul Auster. There is some more information on the novelist's reading on Dagy's German-language blog.

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The entrepreneurial linguists and translating twins blog about the business of translation from Las Vegas and Vienna.

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